Published December 9, 2016
Ernst Backman pushes an eyeball into a face while we look on in amazement. Had I not known his profession before entering this room full of lifeless heads, I’d seriously think I’d walked into a torture chamber. But Ernst just has a passion for recreating the characters of the Icelandic Sagas.
Walking between heads at different stages of completion, he stops and points: “This is my mother. She died one month ago, the good woman. I made her ten years ago.” Anyone can become a part of Ernst’s sagas if they are willing to have their faces immortalized in museums in Iceland, the Faroe Islands or Norway. Ernst himself takes a mould, then pours silicone into the cast. No detail is overlooked, so the resemblance is identical. Every hair is carefully poked in and every vein painted on.
Ernst points at an incomplete head: “This woman is on fire. They are burning her. She was a nun. This is the first woman in Iceland that was burned as a witch.” It struck my attention, how he could picture the setting and story just by looking at the half-finished face. He is involved in the process every step of the way. His passion for the Sagas is the essential reason he started putting these bodies together and opened up a museum to display them. The Saga Museum, now located in Grandi, holds 30 figures in total, each with his or her own story story.
“Sixteen years ago, my wife and I visited Madame Tussauds and I thought, I can do this better,” he says, laughing. Soon after, he realized he might have been too confident. He started researching how to assemble these figures. There wasn’t much documented. “At that time, I didn’t have any resources to consult explaining the steps. We had some struggles in the beginning. Sometimes the head got stuck in the mould. It was also difficult to find out how to attach the eyes in the head,” Ernst says. After years of practise Ernst has become an expert in this nuanced field. These days he is creating a new set of figures that was requested by another museum, he doesn’t plan to stop his mission for years to come.
Here’s a little preview:
Movie by Timothée Lambercq